Archive for September, 2010

Comedian Greg Giraldo dead at 44, reportedly from accidental overdose

September 30, 2010

It was pretty shocking and weird to be watching the Daily Show last night and hear Jon Stewart mention the death of comedian Greg Giraldo at the end of the show.  Giraldo died yesterday, four days after an accidental drug overdose, possibly from prescription medication.

Giraldo was a great comedian, and in my opinion, may have been the best in the world.  I’m not just saying that because he’s dead.

I’m a good judge of comics.  In the early 80s I thought the best comedians who regularly went on the David Letterman show were Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Lewis, Jay Leno, and Dennis Miller.  All of them made it big, though Miller became a political commentator — very boring, Leno became vanilla, and Seinfeld had one of the greatest shows ever, though I like Curb Your Enthusiasm better now.  Lewis had the least commercial fame, but continued to be one of the best comics in the business.  A little like Giraldo.

I first saw Giraldo about ten years ago on Comedy Central’s “Tough Crowd,” a show in which comedians would sit around a table and talk about issues of the day.  The show was hosted by Colin Quinn.  Of course, it was one of the best shows ever so they had to take it off the air.

I saw Giraldo perform at the Improv in Washington, D.C. five years ago.  It was overall a decent performance, but disappointing because expectations were so high.  He was clearly drunk or high during the set.  It always struck me as odd because he didn’t seem like the type of comedian who would need to do that.

In the last several years Giraldo came to prominence because of his spectacular performances on Comedy Central roasts.  His delivery, material, and ability to trash people in a good natured way was legendary.  A running joke was that comedians like Larry the Cable Guy were millionaires while truly great ones like Giraldo were relatively unknown and probably not making a lot of money.

It’s not good to be so much smarter than most people like Giraldo was.  I just read tonight that he was a graduate of Harvard Law. His honesty was like that of another great, late comic, Robert Schimmel, who also died recently although Schimmel had cancer.

RIP.

U.S. government compensated more vaccine injury or death claims for old DTP (diphtheria-tetanus-whole cell pertussis) vaccine than for any other vaccine

September 29, 2010

Whooping cough cases caused by pertussis have increased in the U.S. in recent years, and articles have urged parents to vaccinate their children against the disease.  However, the articles fail to mention the extent of some of the side effects of the vaccines.

In the last 20 years, the U.S. government compensated vaccine victims for injury or death claims 1,265 times for the old DTP (diphtheria-tetanus-whole cell pertussis) vaccine.  That’s more than four times as many claims compensated than for the vaccine that resulted in the next highest number of claims compensated, the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine (304 claims compensated).

In 1991, the FDA approved acellular pertussis vaccines DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis), which are much safer than the old whole cell pertussis vaccines.  The U.S. government only compensated 101 claims for injury or death for the DTaP vaccines, first phased in in 1991 to go along with the DTP vaccine.  Other acellular pertussis vaccines were phased in later in the 1990s.

Vaccineinformation.org states that “Although DTaP vaccine does not cause neurological disorders, receiving the vaccine can cause an already-present underlying condition to show itself.”  This means that if a neurological disorder results from the vaccine, the child’s susceptibility to the disorder is blamed, even if that susceptibility would not have been triggered or manifested without the vaccine. This is a similar argument used in the Hannah Poling case, in which the government conceded that vaccines caused Hannah’s autism, but blamed an underlying mitochondrial disorder.

(As for the autism-vaccines debate, you can read about it in this interview on Examiner.com with the authors of the new Age of Autism book.  Another autism expert blames chemicals.

Essentially, the CDC says the vaccines are safe, except for cases in which infants and children get severe, sometimes permanent reactions, which only happen rarely.  Wording on the CDC website states that the vaccine reactions are worth it to preserve herd immunity.  If the CDC were a person in court, it would likely not be given much credibility because of misleading statements.

Adverse events that can occur that the government compensates victims for after pertussis antigen-containing vaccines (e.g., DTaP, Tdap, DTP, P, DTP-Hib) include:

Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock 1 0-4 hours
B.  Encephalopathy (or encephalitis) 2 0-72 hours
C.  Any acute complication or sequela (including death) of above events 4

A “sequela,” according to Wikipedia, is a pathological condition resulting from a diseaseinjury, or other trauma.  The VICP defines it as “a condition or event which was actually caused by a condition listed in the Vaccine Injury Table.”

Encephalopathy includes seizures and mental or neurological changes.

The following statistics are from the Health Resources and Services Administration Vaccine Injury Compensation Program website.

Vaccines with highest number of claims of injury or death compensated by U.S. government since 1989:

Vaccine(s) Filed Compensated
Injury Death Total
DTP

(diphtheria-tetanus-whole cell pertussis)

3,282 696 3,978 1,265
MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) 814 52 866 304
Hepatitis B (Hep B) 555 48 603 171
Influenza (Trivalent) 476 29 505 170
OPV (Oral Polio) 280 27 307 157
DTaP

(diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis)

291 74 365 101
Pertussis 5 3 8 2
TOTAL 12,468 1,044 13,512 2,529

Note:  “Pertussis,” in italics above listed by itself, only resulted in two claims for injury or death compensated by the government. It is unclear if that means the pertussis vaccine alone is safer than the one combined with other vaccines.

Of the vaccines in the table above, those that contain pertussis also have a much higher percentage of claims filed that involve death than those that involve just injury.

Obviously this isn’t to say don’t vaccinate – it’s just to let people know as much information as possible.  Those who write that vaccines are safe when the government has compensated 2,529 claims for injury or death from vaccines, either are lying or just don’t understand the whole issue.

There are people, by the way, who believe that it is a necessary and acceptable risk for some children to die or be permanently injured so that the vast majority may benefit from vaccines.

Washington Wizards to change colors back to red, white, and blue for 2011-2012 season

September 23, 2010

 

Kevin Grevey goes up for a shot in the Washington Bullets' old red, white and blue uniforms, circa 1980.

 

Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld announced that the Wizards will change their colors back to red, white and blue for the 2011-2012 season, a move that has been rumored for months.

This comes as great news for longtime Washington Bullets fans, who never liked the change of the name to Wizards or the change of the colors to blue and bronze.

Unfortunately, the Wizards will probably never go back to the name Bullets, but at least owner Ted Leonsis will change the colors back to red, white, and blue, fitting for a team in the nation’s capital.  The Wizards, Caps, and Nats will all wear patriotic colors.

(The Redskins can’t change from burgundy and gold – they have such a great tradition with those colors, but wasn’t it great to see the Skins wearing gold pants?  The team is paying homage to its great past.)

Here’s hoping that the Wizards’ new unis won’t be 99% red like the Caps’ and Nats’ uniforms.  Keep some blue.  Also, add back the stars on the shorts.  The photo to the left shows former Bullet Kevin Grevey in the Bullets’ old road uniforms.  The photo below shows a retro Wes Unseld home uniform.  Both were among the best in the history of the NBA.

It’s a great move by Leonsis, but it’s also a no-brainer.  Now maybe Leonsis will improve the Wizards’ website and add more history about the old Bullets.  It’s a shame that that 1978 championship team has been virtually forgotten.

(It doesn’t help that the deans of DC sports media, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, both arrived in D.C. a couple of years after the Bullets’ title, so they always pretend it never happened.  They’ll talk a ton about the Knicks and the Bulls of the 1970s, though.)

 

This retro Wes Unseld jersey has become one of the NBA's biggest sellers. Photo by Mike Frandsen.

 

In emails over the last several months, Leonsis has vowed to improve the franchise’s recognition of its great history, but quite frankly, Leonsis hasn’t kept his word.

I complained multiple times that it was impossible — not hard, but impossible — to get an Elvin Hayes Bullets jersey from the Wizards or anywhere on the internet.  (Ok, you can get one from southeast Asia on ebay, but it doesn’t look right).  Keep in mind that the Big E was the 23rd-best player in the history of the NBA according to Slam Magazine, ahead of players such as Bob Cousy, David Robinson, Willis Reed, Kevin Garnett, Wes Unseld, Walt Frazier, and Patrick Ewing.

Leonsis assured me that someone would get back to me — no one ever did.  I left messages with Wizards’ personnel and no one called back, and no one really knew what I was talking about.

Being a great owner takes more than designing a good website and not being Daniel Snyder.  It takes keeping your word.

Also see the following Examiner articles and blog posts:

Leonsis won’t change name of Wizards to Bullets but may change colors back to red, white and blue

Part 1: Former Washington Bullet Kevin Grevey on the ’78 NBA title season, Kentucky, and the Wizards

Part 2: Former Washington Bullet Kevin Grevey on the ’78 NBA title season, Kentucky, and the Wizards

32 years ago: Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, and Washington Bullets win NBA championship

Should the Washington Wizards change their name back to the Bullets?

Former Washington Bullet Mitch Kupchak: 8 NBA championship rings

Mitch Kupchak and the 1978 Washington Bullets: NBA Champions


‘Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Manmade Epidemic,’ a new book by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill, goes on sale today

September 14, 2010

Age of Autism by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill

The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Manmade Epidemic, a new book by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill, goes on sale today.  I interviewed Olmsted and Blaxill about the book for Examiner.com.

They make a strong case that the autism epidemic is very real, and more environmental than genetic.  Olmsted, a reporter who has devoted his career to writing about autism, and Blaxill, the father of a daughter with autism, argue that autism is largely the result of mercury from pollution, commercial products, and vaccines.

They investigated the backgrounds of some of the parents of the original children Leo Kanner identified in the late 1930s as having autism, and discovered that several of the parents had links to mercury in their backgrounds.

Olmsted and Blaxill say the increase in autism tracks with the use of mercury as a preservative in vaccines (thimerosal), though they say they are not anti-vaccine, just pro-vaccine safety.

Pollution is also a major factor in autism, say the authors, because coal emissions result in mercury that gets into the environment.  They also write that spikes in schizophrenia and other diseases occurred since the Industrial Revolution, perhaps due to pollution.

A couple of other interesting items – they theorize that Mozart may have died from accidental mercury poisoning as a treatment for syphilis.  They also note that the Amish, who vaccinate much less frequently than the general population, have a significantly lower rate of autism.

Obviously the theory that autism is linked to vaccines in some cases is controversial, but those who dismiss the theory outright should read the whole book before commenting on it.

The authors make excellent arguments that the traditional idea that autism is mostly genetic cannot be true because of the huge increase in cases of autism, now one in 110 according to the CDC.  Autism was unknown before the 1930s.

Click here for the interview.

Quotes from Braveheart about freedom and betrayal

September 11, 2010

I’m watching Braveheart now, for probably the 1,001st time on TNT.  A couple of quotes stand out.

To set the scene a little bit, it’s the late 13th century, and Scotland is at war with England.  England has taken land from Scotland, and invoked a rule, at least in the movie, in which English soldiers get to sleep with the wives of Scottish men on their wedding nights.  So the king of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, puts a helmet on to hide his head and then fights for England against Scotland. Robert the Bruce fights against William Wallace (Braveheart, Mel Gibson in the movie, the leader of the Scottish troops), and then gets his helmet knocked off so Wallace sees that Robert the Bruce is fighting against him.

Robert the Bruce after he betrayed William Wallace: “I took it from him when I betrayed him and I saw it in his face on the battlefield.  I will never be on the wrong side again.”

Then, from Wallace:  “Sons of Scotland….Fight and you may die.  Run and you’ll live.  At least a while.  And dying in your beds, many years from now.  Would you be willing to trade all of this, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance to come back here, and tell our enemies, that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”

It means to do what’s right even if it doesn’t help you in the short run.

And finally, a quote from Maximus from “Gladiator:”

“What we do in life…echoes in eternity.”

Teaching kids with autism is not only rewarding, but also tons of fun

September 10, 2010

Helping children with autism learn social skills is fun for everybody involved.

I just wrote an column on Examiner.com about how people often react to what I do for a living with a strange mixture of pity and admiration. They patronize me by telling me what I do is great, but they don’t understand that it’s more than that — it’s simply a lot of fun.

I work with kids with autism, to improve their skills in academics, social skills, and sports.  As I point out in the article, it’s not without challenges.  I’ve been hit, scratched, and had my shirt grabbed so hard it tore in half.  But the great moments outweigh all that, and I’ve got enough memories to last a lifetime, and at least enough for a book.

The main point of the article is that it’s a lot more than rewarding to work with these kids.  It’s a huge amount of fun and I look forward to every session.

How could you not like teaching kids how to read, do math, make friends, play sports, and have fun?  How could you not love jumping on the trampoline, taking them swimming, or taking them sledding?  How could you not like running a play date for kids whose social skills don’t come naturally?

If I seem a little bitter in the article, it’s because there are a lot of women out there who seem to value someone who works in a boring but successful career over someone who would be a great father (not to mention a great husband).  But not everyone has their values upside down.

In “Authentic Happiness,” Martin Seligman writes that when we do things that are both kind and fun, when actions are meaningful, those acts result in true happiness.

Standup2cancer.org: Donations and research are great, but we also need to prevent cancer

September 10, 2010

Above: Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen A. Trutanich, producer Laura Ziskin and Stand Up To Cancer founding member Lisa Paulsen attend a press conference to announce the City of Los Angeles declaring September 10th as ‘Stand Up To Cancer Day’ on September 8, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

CBS just aired “Stand Up 2 Cancer,” a telethon with countless Hollywood stars and reports of research being done to fight cancer. All of this is necessary and great, but I’m concerned that people don’t care enough about what causes cancer and a host of other disabling diseases and disorders.  Obviously, most people know that smoking and alcohol are huge risk factors, and poor diets that lack enough fruits and vegetables don’t help either.  But there is increasing evidence that pollution and chemicals in the environment are to blame for the increase in cancers and disorders such as autism.

There are 80,000 chemicals in the U.S., and only about 200 of them have been tested for safety.  People are constantly saying we need less regulation.  To them, it’s a slogan, but having less regulation hurts, and results in an increasingly polluted environment, tainted food, and oil spills, not to mention the financial crisis.

Heavy metals in the environment such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium are health hazards, not to mention many of the 78,800 chemicals that haven’t been tested for safety.

In April 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel published “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk” and concluded that cancer has been caused by environmental factors much more often than previously thought.  Last July I wrote an article in Examiner.com about the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act introduced into Congress, a bill that aims to improve safety for chemicals, many of which are linked to cancer and autism.

Also in July, I wrote about the National Children’s Study, an effort to determine which pesticides and other chemicals cause autism, cancer, and other disorders and diseases.  Dr. Philip Landrigan, known for his work in ensuring lead was banned from paint and gasoline in the 1970s, is heading the study.

We need to understand that people may be genetically susceptible to certain conditions, but they might live to the age of 90 with no problems as long as those susceptibilities are not triggered.

Is it normal for so many 40-year old women to get breast cancer?  No.

We need to realize that pesticides, designed to kill pests, may just have an effect on infants and developing fetuses.  We need to understand that coal emissions from China result in pollution in California, including mercury that goes into the ocean, accumulates in seafood, and gets into the food chain.  We need to stop just doing what is profitable and convenient, and make sure that safety is a concern when putting new products on the market.

We need to treat cancer, but also prevent it and minimize the risk.

New restaurants in Bethesda: Mussel Bar, American Tap Room, Taylor Gourmet Deli, Vapiano

September 5, 2010

Four new restaurants just opened in Bethesda on Woodmont Avenue, all near the intersection with Elm Street.  This won’t be a review, as I’ve only been to one of them, but i just think it’s interesting.

Mussel Bar replaced Levantes, which served middle eastern food.  I thought Levantes was pretty good, but Mussel Bar has been successful so far.  It has been described as like a “New Jersey bar.”  The inside has dark brown tables and there are picnic tables outside.

Next door is American Tap Room.  It looks good, and it’s nice to have traditional American restaurant in an area with Indian, Japanese, French, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Italian places, which are all great, though Austin Grill was cheap, good, and kid-friendly.  Cafe Deluxe is another kid-friendly option.

Across the street is Taylor Gourmet Deli, which has a wide variety of hoagies, and Vapiano, serving pasta, panini, and pizza.  I had one of the pizzas and it was very good.  The food is made from fresh ingredients right in front of you.  I’m not sure if they have wait staff – it seems like you go up and order and then you bring it to your table when your beeper goes off.  The place is large with rustic tables and some lounge-type chairs.  Seems pretty cool, but it could be one of the least likely to survive because it’s the furthest from the epicenter of lower Bethesda (Barnes and Noble), and there isn’t much else on Hampden Lane.

So the number of restaurants has increased by two overall on that corner.  On Bethesda Avenue, Organic to Go, across from Sweetgreen, went out of business.  I asked them once why they served Coke and Sprite since they were supposed to be healthy.  “Demand,” the guy said.  Well, looks like that didn’t work out too well.  Most of the places in downtown Bethesda do well, but if you’re even a block off the beaten path (Thai Corner, on Bethesda Ave. on the other side of Woodmont, and Pizza Zero, on Bethesda Ave. on the other side of Arlington Road, both went out of business) you can struggle.

All four places have outdoor seating.

T20 Cricket Tournament comes to Washington, D.C. area Labor Day weekend

September 4, 2010

Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England, 2007. Photo by Mike Frandsen

Cricket comes to the Washington, D.C. area Labor Day weekend, as four teams will participate in the DC Twenty20 Cricket Tournament in Middleburg, Virginia.

The U.S. Tigers, Pak-America Lions, Virginia Warriors and Washington Senators will play in the tourney from September 4 to 6 at Mickie Gordon Memorial Park in Middleburg, about 45  minutes west of Washington. All four teams have at least one player on the U.S. national team. Admission is free.

T20 cricket, also known as one-day cricket, differs from traditional first-class cricket in that matches usually last less than six hours rather than several days. T20 cricket was developed in England 2003 and is the form played in the U.S. First-class cricket is the form played in international test matches.

For the rest of my article on Examiner.com, click here.


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